Peres visits Ben-Gurion grave 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Thirty eight years after David Ben-Gurion died, President Shimon Peres described
what the founding prime minister dreamed Israel would look like
“He wanted the nation to be strong without being a dictatorship,”
Peres, a disciple of Israel’s founding father, said at the annual Ben-Gurion
graveside ceremony in Sde Boker on Sunday.
Where is the Palestinian Ben-Gurion?
The president also recalled
that Ben-Gurion wanted a state that embraced the values of the dignity and
freedom of its citizens, including freedom of expression. He wanted a state of
social justice that encouraged creativity and science.
Peres’s words were
strikingly relevant given the recent public debates over threats to Israeli
democracy and the advent of a new social justice movement.
that Ben-Gurion keenly believed in the separation of branches of authority –
that politicians should not be judges and that judges should not meddle in
“He believed that there was no alternative to the democratic
system, and any attempt to attack it endangered it. He was faithful to the
concept of the decision of the majority providing that it did not ignore the
rights of the minority.”
Peres, 88, is a year older than Ben-Gurion was
at the time of his death.
Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon,
another loyal Ben-Gurion disciple who was also present at the ceremony, is
Peres noted that Ben- Gurion had asked that the date of his coming to
the Land of Israel be engraved on his tombstone, because he considered it the
date of his birth. Ben-Gurion was in fact born on October 16, 1886, and arrived
in Ottoman Palestine in 1906. He died on December 1, 1973, slightly less than
two months after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
Peres lauded him as
a leader who overcame arid terrain and hostile neighbors.
“He was a great
statesman without a state, a great military strategist without an army. He was
blessed with unusual talents, with a will of steel, a word engraved in stone and
an unshakable faith,” the president said.
Peres also described his
beloved mentor as a man of broad vision who nonetheless inspected everything
closely – who believed that the impossible was possible.
It was rare,
said Peres, to meet anyone who had such a deep and abiding love for his
It is common knowledge that Ben-Gurion was a great scholar of the
Bible, and much of his vision, according to Peres, was influenced by the
He was dedicated to freeing himself from the shackles
of the Diaspora. A Zionist in Ben-Gurion’s eyes was someone who chose to live in
Israel, spoke Hebrew, and lived by the concept of the Chosen People as a light
unto itself and to others, said Peres.
Yet for all his strength,
Ben-Gurion too nursed fears. He was afraid, said Peres, that if the majority of
Jews remained in the Diaspora the state would not be established, or conversely,
if the Jewish people came to the Land of Israel but was divided, this too would
obstruct the creation of a state.
Ben-Gurion had to cope with issues of
security to withstand external threats, while simultaneously trying to mend
ruinous rifts on the home front. “He did not forget the lessons of the
destruction of the Temple or the Holocaust,” said Peres. “He believed in
Immigration was a priority on his agenda, and he was opposed
to the denigration of any immigrant.
Ben-Gurion also served as defense
minister and in both capacities was fully aware that if Israel did not defend
itself, no one would come to its defense, said Peres.
The IDF – the army
created by Ben-Gurion – exists to defend the nation, but is also an army of
peace, based on the concept of the purity of arms, said Peres.